Bil Browning

A quick point from a "nut" about mental illness

Filed By Bil Browning | April 10, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: child abuse, derogatory slurs, gun violence, Marie Moore, mental illness, suicide

Yesterday John Aravosis posted about a tragic murder/suicide in Florida. A mentally ill woman went with her 20 year old son to a shooting range, shot and killed him and then turned the gun on herself.

The woman had a history of severe mental illness including an involuntary hospitalization and suicide attempts. In her suicide note she wrote, "I'm sorry to do this in your place of business, but I had to save my son. bipolar artwork_web.jpgGod made me a queen and I failed. I'm a fallen angel. He turned me into the anti-Christ." She said she killed her son to "save" him and by doing it in public she hoped to save the world. "Hopefully when I die, there will 1,000 years of peace." She was bipolar.

John adds a quip at the end of his post that enrages me. (Emphasis mine)

I mean, this isn't really news. She's obviously just some nut. But still. There's something about stories like this that feel like they're about something bigger. Not just guns, though it is partly about that (there is no excuse for a nut like this woman being permitted to touch a gun, absolutely absurd). But also about society today. I know she's just one example. And with 300+ million citizens, we're going to have some screwballs. But still, I find it hard to read and watch something like this and not feel a tinge of despair for our country.

As a bipolar person, I'd like to address what John said about the woman being "a nut" and a "screwball." I've been where she was and it's not a laugh riot. It's painful and disturbing when your mind turns against you.

A few of John's readers take him to task on this issue, but other commenters quickly jump in to his defense. A few examples:

Please do not call mentally ill people 'nuts'. Parents do not kill their children and/or themselves if they are sane. Not the way biology/psychology/psychiatry/evolution/nuturing/etc. work. I was offended.

Pretty sure blowing her kids head off precludes any kind of politeness shown towards her "illness"

she was a fucking psycho.

I agree Gridlock - fucking psycho seems a bit more descriptive then "nuts". Genetic or not, she "knew" what she was doing.

Let God have pity on her - she murdered a person who had their entire life ahead of them, in the back of the head, not knowing it was coming. The kid never had a chance.

This is 1st degree murder, psycho or nuts or whatever.

I am not nuts, a fucking psycho or a screwball. 95% of the time, I'm perfectly fine thanks to medication that I take daily.

The Medication Regimen

It's not fun to take those meds every night; they're a constant reminder of my illness coupled with the knowledge that if I don't take them things will go to hell in a handbasket. Even taking the meds regularly doesn't necessarily mean that everything will stay constantly balanced and life will be like Candyland. I spend too much time worried that the meds will stop working and my mind will turn against me again.

I don't like taking the medication. I take Lamictal. One of the most common side effects is tremors and jerky twitches. I have those. My arms or legs will convulse and twitch at the least appropriate time like those jerks you get when you're falling asleep.

If I don't take the medicine though, life gets worse. Here's some of the crazy shit I've done while manic or severely depressed:

  • Heard noises like a bird chirping that aren't real (not voices thankfully)
  • Lost jobs when I can't function normally
  • Spent hours in the shower crying uncontrollably while the water beats down to wash away the tears
  • Jumped the counter to beat the hell out of a customer who called me a "faggot"
  • Spent every last dime of savings and then wrote bad checks to continue the shopping spree
  • Had visual hallucinations (the elephant crushing the garage stands out in particular)
  • Cheated on Jerame multiple times for the thrill of it without consideration for his feelings or the damage it could cause to our relationship
  • Considered/attempted suicide multiple times
  • Been so paranoid I couldn't leave the house without having massive panic attacks
  • Become lost while driving around running regular errands to places I go almost every week
  • Lied about everyday events that were clearly grandiose imaginations instead of real life
  • Believed the lies I'd told
  • Obsessed over being unloved and unwanted
  • Spontaneously decided to travel around the country with $2 in my pocket (I ended up in Texas before I came to my senses.)

Living in Bil Browning World

I'm not proud of these things. I know some of them are completely disrespectful to others, some are inherently dangerous and others just make me a complete jerk. But they are part of me - or as Jerame calls it, "It's part of living in Bil Browning world." It's not exaggerating in the least to say I've given him 1001 reasons to have left me by now. It can be very difficult dealing with my crazy every day and night and wondering if today is the day that I freak out.

Living in my world isn't easy for me either though. I make my living off of my brain. I don't work with my hands, I write and offer (hopefully) insightful punditry about today's LGBT issues. Each time I write a controversial post, I stop and wonder if I'm not "nuts" and should kill the post. I second guess everything because I'm trying to see through the prism of bipolar to ensure my point of view isn't skewed by mental illness.

Every time I write about being bipolar, I feel readers' and peers' respect shift downward dramatically. I've read the comments on other blogs that accuse me of being "off my rocker" or "unstable" when I write something they don't agree with. I've heard about local "leaders" of the Indiana LGBT community telling anyone who would listen that I'm "disturbed" and "shouldn't be trusted because you never know if he's sane or wants to kill someone." I've had lovers leave because they just can't deal with my mood swings.

All of which leaves me to either struggle alone and in silence about my illness because my livelihood depends on keeping my "big secret." And "secret" it is. I spent years hiding my illness for fear of that automatic dismissal and downgrade of authority.

Why John's Comment Strikes a Nerve

When someone denigrates another mentally ill person like John did, it hits me to the core. He casually dismisses her deranged actions as being "nuts" as if she's not worthy of pity. While her son is quite obviously a victim of this tragedy, so is she. When you can't acknowledge that the woman was mentally disturbed, not in control of her actions and convinced she's a queen anointed by God, you've taken away the human capacity for understanding that she was sick.

We don't shame most people for being ill. HIV/AIDS stigma was prevalent in the early days of the outbreak and was quickly called out for what it was - blaming the victim. This is simply no different.

I don't want anyone's pity or sympathy for being mentally ill. What I want is some respect for dealing with extraordinary challenges that I honestly don't think most people could handle. As I said, 95% of the time I'm perfectly fine and "normal" (whatever that is), but sometimes I require extra care - both from myself, my doctors and my support system.

But I'm not a "nut," a "screwball," or "a fucking psycho." I'm Bil. Welcome to my world. And thanks for making it even harder, John.

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Thanks a lot for this. As another "crazy" person, I really appreciate it.

I've known a number of people with serious bipolar issues and will never look down upon you for ramifications of your illness. Everyone's got their cross to bear, after all.

(Who struggles almost daily with ever-increasing visual impairment.)

Mental illness can't be our "dirty little secret". The result can be catastrophic to individuals, families, and communities. Bil, I admire your resolve to be open about your struggle.

If you are all of those things, then so are at least three of my closest friends. I do NOT consider them ANY of those things!!! I do not think any less of them for having such issues; they are my friends, period.

My own life experiences with depression and suicidal thoughts have been troubling to me as well. Between medication and transition (subsequently having GCS/SRS late last year), my outlook on life and living has improved considerably. So, does all this mean I am a "nut" or a "screwball" too?

Mental illness is an illness. It may not be physical in nature like heart disease or arthritis, but it still affects a very vital organ: your mind. John Aravosis is wrong and his column offensive. To demean someone who is ill like that, regardless of the cause, is showing ignorance - and hatred.

Hello fellow nut! I wish more people understood HOW the human brain develops - Jane Healy has some great books on that...start with "Endangered Minds" if you are a parent (I used to be an early childhood music specialist; read this book and kill your TV).

Here's the BIG SECRET. Our brains develop DIRECTLY THROUGH experiences, so naturally when a child experiences traumatic events (like physical/sexual abuse and neglect), that child's BRAIN develops differently. And many developments are permanent. Dendrites either connect differently, or not at all, when there is abuse. Is it any wonder how many "mentally ill" folks have histories of abuse?

Other science stuff - Our personalities are mostly developed by age 3. A child's musical aptitude is SET by age 9. This suggests that the time from birth to age 9 is HYPER-CRITICAL when it comes to developing a "healthy" mind or a less "healthy" one. That's what meds do - fix the brain chemistry that failed to develop during childhood.

Yet we are often chastised for "not trying harder", "pulling up boot straps", and ridiculed for how our physical body (including our brains) developed. Yeah, us gays are as petty and cruel as everyone else, despite our minority status.

Bil, I have been moved when you share here, and also thrilled to see someone else who feels NO SHAME in just BEING REAL. I mean, what the F*CK else CAN you be but real? :-)

Awesome post. Thank you for sharing your experience.
I am a mental health professional and what you are addressing here, the stigma of mental illness, is very likely one of the things that prevented this woman from receiving some kind of help before this tragedy occurred.
I applaud your effort to bring the humanity to this issue. For anyone interested in reading more about stigma, there is good information at

Great observations, Bil...

For me, it's intriguing to look at the connections as well as the disconnects between lgbtq communities and mental health awareness.

If you ask me, queer communities have a long history with mental illness. From the earliest days, living with an orientation and/or gender identity outside the perceived norms has been equated with being deformed, deficient, or fixable. Those who survive and thrive have done so by marshalling huge internal resources. So many of us have grown up in personal war zones of one flavor or another; in that context, it's no wonder that so many of us have lived through seasons, if not much of our lives, recovering from traumatic stress disorders.

There is good evidence of gay and gay-affirming folks pulling together to support and care for each other, raising awareness and promoting prevention in the face of HIV in the 80s and 90s. It's not that we're quick or perfect about learning and innovating... as a whole, the learning process has seemed slower and more haphazard in truly understanding and integrating transgender people and related issues.

But, it strikes me that lgbtq communities have a remarkable opportunity to grab hold of mental health issues and promote broader, better understanding. The public stereotypes are more likely to promote the image of gay folks as naturally fierce and fearless, not needing or using professional care and support. That's not an accurate reflection of the big picture, though -- many of us have owe much to being competent consumers of good mental health care.

My ownership of the issue is multi-layered. I've got my own stuff to deal with in the form of anxiety and other crap that too often leaves me less than functional or productive. I've also got the experience of surviving my partner's suicide in 2000.

Because of the lessons learned in the aftermath of Dale's death, I get really frustrated with many of the responses I see to suicide.

John's response to Marie Moore was to lapse into name-calling and feel some sort of despair about what she means for the country; the commenters who followed seem to insist that she remained lucid enough to rise fiercely above her mental illness to make rational decisions.

Of course, she needed intensive mental health care, not just our vague wishes that she would have mustered more internal fortitude.

When the topic of suicide comes up in our communities, I'm concerned about us getting distracted from the need to focus on mental health awareness and getting good care. The first time I saw the word bullycide used, a chill ran through me. The headline by Pam Spaulding was Eliminate Bullycide Now. Yes, absolutely, we need to end bullying. But, eradicating bullying will not erase suicide.

Death by suicide may have any number of contributing factors, but it is the end result of a collapse in mental health. (I'm leaving aside exceptions, like suicide bombers, here.)

We run a grave risk if we talk about suicide and imply that it is a rational, almost expected, response to bullying and hate crimes. The risk is that our most vulnerable loved ones, younger and older, struggling through despair with no apparent end in sight, will hear that their fate is out of their hands.

I believe we in the lgbtq community have an opportunity -- a unique platform -- to promote mental health awareness and advocate access to effective mental health care. It has always been key to being functional and productive as queer folk. It is the primary path to suicide prevention (while work continues, in parallel, on bullying, hate crimes, and discrimination).

With your open, poignant telling of your story here, Bil, you're on the leading edge of that. Thanks -- it's no easy or simple thing to say what needs to be said, but it's deeply needed and appreciated.

If someone wants to hurt themself then they deserve any help available. If someone wants to hurt someone other than themself, that someone becomes secondary to the wellbeing of everyone else.

I agree. It's not nuts when they do hurt someone else by the way, it has a lot to do with lack of empathy and pure selfishness.

Thanks for commenting, Ewe. I wondered if someone would take that position and I'm glad it's you (who I know will argue rationally without devolving into personal attacks) although I'd like to include Ajlouny too...

Ewe writes:

If someone wants to hurt themself then they deserve any help available. If someone wants to hurt someone other than themself, that someone becomes secondary to the wellbeing of everyone else.

Understandably, if someone is suicidal they deserve help. We agree. But I think the part that you're missing is when you say they become "secondary." Why does her mental health become "less than"? Why is it an either/or situation? She obviously still needs help and if we're going to talk about the wellbeing of others, wouldn't getting her serious help constitute making others safe?

What I hear you saying is this: "Once someone makes the decision to hurt someone else, they don't get my pity/sympathy." I question that it was a "decision" she made. To be in that situation (and I've never made it there myself - thoughts of homicide hasn't been an issue for me) is to not be thinking lucidly. Not "clearly," but lucidly. She's not in control of herself or her mind. There's no decision to make because she's incapable of it. The mind has twisted and jumped in control of every situation. In my case, this often involves not eating for days, never being able to sleep, etc.

But let me clear about this: Not every bipolar person is suicidal or homicidal. As with everything, there's various degrees. With previous involuntary hospitalizations and other treatment she'd already received, she was clearly a serious case. While I've been manic enough to lose control a few times, I can't begin to fathom what life must have like for her in those last days. And that makes me pity both her child and her.

I agree. It's not nuts when they do hurt someone else by the way, it has a lot to do with lack of empathy and pure selfishness.

It's not "lack of empathy and pure selfishness," Ajlouny. Really. It's not. That's extremely insulting actually. When your mind turns against you and becomes your enemy, it's not selfish to be sick. It's not a lack of empathy that turns ordinary conversations into dramas cooked up in your head that twist into a life of their own. It's not selfish to suffer hallucinations without drugs. It's not selfish to want to kill yourself to make your mind stop screaming in your head.

From her suicide notes that spelled out how deranged she was - thought she was a queen, thought killing her son would "save" him, thought committing suicide in public would bring 1000 years of peace to Earth, etc - it's clear to me that it wasn't that she was selfish or lacked empathy. She just simply wasn't in control. The disease was.

Unlike a broken leg or a cancer tumor, they can't think "for themselves." Mental illness is unique in that regard. Our brains rule 99.9% of what we do as humans; when it's malfunctioning to the point where it takes over the person (as versus the person in control of their mind), there's just nothing to be done but medication, hospitalization, therapy, etc. Sometimes people need to be locked up for a while to prevent them from harming others. She should have been; it would have avoided this tragedy.

But blaming the victim is, well, "nuts." :) There's two victims to this story - the son who became the target of a mentally ill person's compulsion and the mentally ill person who was able to get that far into psychosis and mania without someone stepping in and helping her.

It is an "either or" situation because they are either living or they are dead Bill. It is not about me giving her sympathy or pity after she killed someone and then herself. If she had lived she would have been contained. If we discuss what her belief systems had evolved into, she also should have been contained. The woman was mentally ill. We don't have to call her "nuts" if that bothers you but she was indeed not in control and not capable of making decisions. How do you know her lucidity did not all of a sudden become clarity and she realized what the hell she did of her own volition. The woman was insane!!!! She was sick. She was ill. Some people label that "nuts". We have to have some boundaries with one another and murder usually denies the perpetrator respect of any kind from most people. I think that is somewhat understandable too.

Maybe the solace of knowing Americablog seems to be losing readers by the day will make you feel better.

As someone with a 7-year diagnosis of major depressive disorder, I hate it when people tell me to just "be happy".

It would make me very happy if I could smack them upside the head- is that an acceptable treatment plan?

I find it effective - changes the conversation! (lol)

OK, let me just say from the start that Bil Browning isn't "normal" 95% of the time. He's extraordinary.

But yeah, the lesson in this story isn't something about gun control. I can kinda see the point that Aravosis was trying to make - that we have to accept that no policy can be perfect in a country of 300M, that not accepting that fact leads to retributive, right-wing policy that tries to punish instead of understand - but seriously he didn't have to state it that way.

The woman doesn't deserve pity - she deserved compassion and help. Because no matter how much the rest of us non-mentally ill folks think that we're all-so cool because we don't hear voices, etc., that shit can happen to us and even if it isn't exactly bipolar disorder we should be making an effort to understand people who work differently because there's no guarantee that you're not going to get something like Alzheimers or depression later on in life and you won't want the Aravosises of the world making stupid comments.

Don't worry, Bil, I got your back. Let me know if you want me to start leaving gratuitously mean comments on AmericanBlog.

"...but seriously, he didn't have to state it that way."

Exactly. John has his purpose -- I'm stuck on "pterodactyl in the coal mine" -- and he's good at letting LOTS of readers know about lots of gay topics, but he can be big and loud and I'll bet rarely considers whether he's hurt or offended someone.

Bil, you're not a nut; we all know that, and we all like you for being you and for providing us with this unique place, perspective and ability to converse. I wish I could hold you until you're convinced; please ask Jerame to hold you for me. And please consider me another member of your support system.

Every time I write about being bipolar, I feel readers' and peers' respect shift downward dramatically.
Guess I'm swimming against the tide then, Bil. My respect for you went up.

Just like my respect for the Australian Human Rights Commissioner went up when I met him, and found out he was blind.

It takes something special to achieve what you've done. That you've done it while suffering bipolar is pretty darned impressive.

As for the woman who shot her son, and herself - it was a moral act. She was trying to do the right thing. People like her deserve all the help we can give.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 11, 2009 12:39 PM

sad as this woman's problems are you are only one thing:


Gifted by the opportunity to experience an alternate reality that "enhances" this reality. It is a burden to be different. You turn it into something else that allows you to be "Bil" and that is damn fine.

Hi Bil. I've been living with a bipolar diagnosis for 20 years. I'm on disability, because my symptoms get so severe that I don't leave the house most times. Because I was suicidal, my ex-spouse had a restraining order set against me and took emergency custody of my children because I was a "danger" to them. I had NEVER lifted a violent finger towards anyone, let alone my children.

The woman in the article, however, doesn't sound bipolar. Her delusions were so severe, she sounds more Schizophrenic than anything (my older sister is Paranoid Schizophrenic). While I do suffer some paranoid delusion, I've never experienced anything as extreme as the woman in the article.

I have been on a roulette wheel of medications in my time, and I'm currently unmedicated due to no insurance. I've found mental illness to be extremely isolating. Friends don't want to deal with you, partners get exasperated and fed up, and you're left feeling alone, helpless and guilty for something you have no control over. There isn't a week that goes by that I don't wish for a "normal" life.

As a bipolar, bisexual, black man. I feel ya man. and yeah. the sounds get to me too. B.P. for life.

My husband reads your blog regularly and was very pleased to share this post with me; I recently lost yet another job, my dream job, due to social anxiety/depression or whatever they're diagnosing me with this week. After 30 years, I've finally realized that this is an illness I've been living with my entire life (yes, I can remember symptoms from early, early childhood, although apparently no one really noticed the signs; we get good at covering up, don't we? Isn't it easier to be "crazy"?). You get a cold, you take medicine; you get a mental disorder and you spend your life trying to figure out why you're such a sorry excuse for a human being. Anyway, thank you for this post; I have a lot of work to do, but reading what you have to go through makes it seem like maybe there's a way to have a real life.
I'm just so happy to live in a time when I can actually get help; when we all can.